Recently Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in his capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to both the President of the United States and Congress to communicate and boldly affirm the position of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on the tragic conflict in Syria.
Cardinal Dolan expressed gratitude for the patience and restraint the Obama administration has exercised thus far and said that the Conference stood united with the administration in its absolute condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and its concerns for the peace and security of the nation.
We all stand in mourning with those who are suffering and grieving in Syria where over 100,000 people have lost their lives to date. We are united in prayer with over two million refugees who have been driven from their homes by terror and violence. It is a terribly tragic situation for the Syrian people and for the world, as well as deeply troubling.
An integral aspect of the call of the Church, as expressed by the Holy Father in this critical moment, is a summons to a renewed effort toward a political solution rather than a military one in Syria. The Church, following the guidance of the Holy Father, desires to be a catalyst for a non-violent solution to the crisis in Syria, a solution that is just, respects the dignity of persons, and is careful not to deepen the tensions that exist.
As the People of God we have a moral responsibility to remember and remind our legislators of the strict conditions required for a just war: 1) The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; 2) All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; 3) There must be serious prospects of success; 4) The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs heavily in evaluating this condition (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2309).
I stand with the Holy Father in his condemnation of violence in Syria. I stand with him in his plea for greater humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria, and for countries that are taking in refugees. And finally, I stand with the Holy Father, in his unwillingness to endorse military action at this juncture. The conditions of the doctrine of a just war, as articulated above, have not been demonstrated. As a nation we have a grave responsibility before God and humanity to demonstrate that these criteria have been achieved before initiating war.
This is an opportunity to remind the Christian faithful and all people of good will that peace, whether in the individual heart, or in society, depends upon docility to the divine will of God. Peace is both a gift to be accepted from above, and a fruit of our docility to the divine will sown into our hearts. It is fitting that our day of prayer and fasting for peace took place on the eve of a day traditionally reserved for the veneration of Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace.
His Holiness Pope Francis recognizes how important obedience to the Divine Law is for peace. The Holy Father knows that only conformity with the Divine Order leads to the conversion of hearts and societies. Conversion is essential to peace, which is one reason we are called as a Church to pray and fast for peace. As Pope John XXIII wrote of the need for peace in the encyclical Pacem et Terris, “so magnificent, so exalted is this aim that human resources alone, even though inspired by the most praiseworthy good will, cannot hope to achieve it. God Himself must come to man’s aid, with his heavenly assistance, if human society is to bear the closest possible resemblance to the Kingdom of God.” (Pacem et Terris, John XXIII) Following this thought I close with a prayer from Pope John XXIII, but this time, for peace in Syria, in the Middle East, in our nation, as well as in our cities, homes, and hearts:
Let us, then, pray with all fervor for this peace which our divine Redeemer came to bring us. May He banish from the souls of men whatever might endanger peace. May He transform all men into witnesses of truth, justice and brotherly love. May He illumine with His light the minds of rulers, so that, besides caring for the proper material welfare of their peoples, they may also guarantee them the fairest gift of peace.
Finally, may Christ inflame the desires of all men to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong. Through His power and inspiration may all peoples welcome each other to their hearts as brothers, and may the peace they long for ever flower and ever reign among them (Pacem et Terris).